In last night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks were down by one goal nearing the end of the second period, when Marco Sturm earned a small portion of his $2.25 million contract by forcing an offensive zone faceoff with 24 seconds left. Unsurprisingly, Alain Vigneault sent out his top line of Burrows and the Sedins in hopes of getting a late goal.

Since the Oilers were at home, they had the last change and Tom Renney could send out whoever he wanted. He smartly chose his veteran second line of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, and Ryan Jones. Horcoff was the Oilers’ best man in the faceoff circle and took the majority of the defensive zone draws: so far, so good. He then made a baffling decision. For his defensive pair, he sent out his bottom pair of Andy Sutton and Corey Potter. This was not a good idea. Let’s explore why in pictures.

As you can see, it’s a pretty typical set up off the faceoff. I’ve circled Sutton and Potter: Sutton is on the boards facing Daniel Sedin. He has the unenviable task of trying to contain last season’s Art Ross winner. Potter is in front of the net: they’ve given the rookie playing in his first game with the Oilers the job of protecting the front of the net if the Canucks win the draw or retrieving the puck if the Oilers win the draw. So far, so good.

As soon as the puck drops, things start to go wrong almost immediately. Horcoff can’t quite win the draw cleanly, so Jones jumps in to help and sends the puck straight back. Normally, this would be great, but now Jones is not checking Burrows. This means Potter needs to pick up Burrows. Meanwhile, Daniel has already gotten inside position on Sutton and some over-confident Oilers fans head for the concessions.

Now the Oilers have a problem: they just don’t know it yet. Both Daniel and Burrows head straight for the puck. Since Daniel has inside position, Sutton accidentally takes him down. No penalty will be called on the play, but Sutton doesn’t know that yet. Meanwhile, Potter has second guessed where he should be going and has taken a step back towards the front of the net instead of stepping towards the puck to get position on Burrows.

Instead of going to the puck to get possession, Sutton throws his arms up in protest of a call that isn’t even being made. Simultaneously, Burrows has gained a step on Potter to get to the puck. Henrik identifies the situation and heads to the boards, while Horcoff and Jones seem undecided on who’s going to follow him there.

Potter recovers reasonably well from his previous indecision to knock Burrows off the puck and attempt to clear it. Reasonably well just won’t cut it against the Sedins, however. Since he’s locked in a battle with Burrows, he isn’t able to get much on the attempt. If he had been more decisive off the faceoff, he would have reached the puck with time to make a pass behind the net to Smyth. Sutton, caught flat-footed while looking to the referee, is several steps behind Daniel. Meanwhile, Jones is nowhere near Henrik.

Henrik easily cuts off the weak clearing attempt and has plenty of time and space with Jones bearing down on him like a septuagenarian. He rings the puck around the boards to Daniel behind the net who, you’ll notice, still has a step on Sutton. Also of note, Burrows is closer to the net than Potter is. This will be important later. And by later I mean in about 4 seconds. Two of the fans who were just heading for beer have noticed something is amiss.

Sutton had two choices: he could recognize that he had already lost position on Daniel and cut in front of the net to prevent him from bringing the puck out from the opposite side, or he could lunge at the puck, hoping to cut it off before it reached the younger Sedin. He chose…poorly. As soon as he makes that lunge, Sutton’s committed himself to chasing Daniel rather than positioning himself where Daniel can do the least damage. Smyth has vacated the front of the net to cover Edler, while Potter has completely lost Burrows. It’s possible that he expects Horcoff to pick him up instead.

The problem is that Horcoff just isn’t going to get there in time. Burrows has already taken a couple strides, while Horcoff was standing still, assuming that Potter wasn’t going to let Burrows beat him out of the corner. Behind the net, Sutton has made himself completely useless, as he doesn’t have a hope of getting to Daniel in time to stop the play that’s developing.

By the time Horcoff gets to Burrows, the winger already has his legs in position to prevent Horcoff from tying up his stick, which is on the ice, ready to tip in Daniel’s pass. If Corey Potter is a little quicker out of the corner, he could still reach Burrows in time to lift his stick. If Andy Sutton recognizes he’s lost Daniel and cuts in front of the net instead of chasing, he could prevent the pass. Instead, a faceoff win turns into a goal against in 8 seconds.

And that’s why you don’t send out your bottom defensive pair against the Sedins.

 

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10 comments

  1. Nlee
    October 16, 2011

    Great post. I saw this play and just thought “Huh?” because it developed so fast. Cool to see it broken down so I can understand how that goal happened so quickly.

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  2. Simon Tse
    October 16, 2011

    Couldn’t help but think that the last sentence should be read in the style of J. Walter Weatherman.

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  3. Becanucks
    October 16, 2011

    This is the demonstration of a coaching gaffe. Well done sir, thank you for the analysis!

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  4. Dane
    October 16, 2011

    Great analysis! Wouldn’t mind seeing the Salo GWG broken down like that too. It had a similar feel. An Oilers faceoff win turning into a lose quickly and out of position players not covering correctly. Or was that his first goal? Ah, who knows. He was everywhere.

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  5. The Bookie
    October 16, 2011

    Once you pointed out the over-confident fans that’s all I could focus on in the pictures. I really like how at one point they’re heading up the stairs, and then they turn around and freeze, watching the play unfold.

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  6. tom
    October 16, 2011

    that was pretty good mr wagner. I like that.
    it could use another circle or two on the other pictures. even though i`ve been watching hockey for about 10 years, I still am not familiar with all the position terms and have a hard time following what you were describing.
    thanks for breaking it down!

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    • Daniel Wagner
      October 16, 2011

      I’ll definitely keep that in mind in the future. It’s my first attempt at this kind of breakdown on PITB, so I was figuring it out on the fly. I’ll definitely use a few more illustrations next time.

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  7. SteveB
    October 16, 2011

    Insights like thesd are one of the reasons that I follow PITB every day.

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  8. dSuico17
    October 18, 2011

    i didn’t think it was possible to breakdown any wizardous Sedinerie, but obviously it is possible. great job, PITB. just one of the many reasons why i have you bookmarked for my everyday morning commute. :)

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  9. tom selleck's moustache
    October 18, 2011

    I just recently started reading your blog and I haven’t been able to stop. You guys have written some of the most insightful and intelligent stuff that I’ve seen on the Canucks/hockey; and you do it with some brilliant humour sprinkled in as well. Thanks so much and keep up the great work.

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